That’s not OK…but what is?

Jodie Warren, SEND Coach & Consultant, Jodie Warren Coaching
22nd January 2024

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Teaching children to regulate their emotions requires time and it requires patience. These are not skills we acquire overnight but they are essential skills to acquire. In previous articles we’ve explored the importance of being able to recognise and name our emotions as well as the recognise when or if we need to change how we’re feeling or need to allow ourselves to feel it, however uncomfortable that might be.

However, sometimes we do need to change how we’re feeling. Sometimes how we’re feeling in a moment isn’t helpful to us or the way in which we’re expressing that emotion isn’t safe for us or others. Feeling a bit nervous before an interview makes sense but feeling terrified is unlikely to help us come across as well as we could. Equally if we’ve had an argument with someone and we’re feeling really angry, going back into that conversation still furious isn’t going to help us find a solution. If instead we can first find ways to calm ourselves, we’re far more likely to be able to get the result we’re hoping for, whether in the conversation or the interview.

The challenge for many practitioners can be how children regulate their emotions. Maybe they shout or throw or hit when they’re upset or maybe they run away and hide. These are all valid ways of expressing or regulating those difficult emotions but if you don’t know where a child is, or if they’re hurting themselves or others, how can we support them to learn different ways to achieve the same result?

  1. Differentiate between the feeling and the action:‘it’s OK to feel angry, it’s not OK to hit’.

  2. Share how you regulate your emotions: as Dr Becky Kennedy says ‘children are born into this world with all the big emotions & none of the skills’. Some of these skills we can teach but many of these skills will be acquired through watching how others handle those big emotions. In a calm moment (for both of you) draw or share ideas of how you process difficult emotions to open up discussion about what they could try.

  3. Identify an alternative that works for them: when we just tell our child to stop a behaviour that’s helping them to regulate without giving them a different strategy we’re not offering an alternative they can start to learn. As a result, the next time they’re struggling we’re likely to see the same regulating behaviour. In a calm moment you could try agreeing possible strategies they could use next time they’re upset. There is no blueprint for ‘the right’ strategies, it’s about finding strategies that work for them and the way their brain works.

Maybe when they’re feeling cross they knock over other people’s games or bite. You might agree that ‘when you feel cross it’s not OK to hurt people. You can: squash big balls of play doh, pull on a theraband or go on the trampoline’. For some children having this as a visual can help too as they don’t then need to process spoken words when they’re upset. Jodie Warren, SEND Coach & Consultant, Jodie Warren Coaching

By providing an alternative you’re giving your child a way of regulating themselves that’s safe for them and for others.

  1. Make sure you’re calm: in the words of Bruce Perry ‘a dysregulated adult never regulated a dysregulated child’. If you find yourself getting stressed and overwhelmed it can be incredibly hard to model managing those big emotions. It can also be really hard to respond in a way that makes things better and not worse. In those moments recognise it may be that you’re not the best person to support. You might consider:
  • What can you do to look after yourself so you have greater capacity to cope when things are difficult?
  • What strategies can you use in the moment when you feel yourself dysregulating?
  • And if all else fails, how could you communicate that you’re struggling with a colleague so you can swap and have a ‘change of face’?

In taking the time to learn more about how emotional regulation works we can change how we model and support this process. In doing so we can proactively support both our own and children’s long-term emotional wellbeing.

To learn more about emotional regulation join me at the Childcare and Education Expo on Friday 1st March 2024, contact me on or connect here. 

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